Ex-Eskimo hard hit­ter now throws his weight into hous­ing the poor

Edmonton Journal - - CITY PLUS -

When for­mer Eski­mos all-star de­fen­sive back Ed Jones first flew into Ed­mon­ton in the fall of 1976, he wasn’t ex­actly sure where­he­was­goin­gor what to ex­pect. The Eski­mos had called the NewJersey na­tive whenhe was re­leased from the Buf­falo Bills.

“I came­uphere not know­ing where I was­go­ing,” Jones re­called last week. “I knew it was nowhere near Toronto — and it was cold.”

Raised in Navesink, near As­bury Park on the heav­ily pop­u­lated Jer­sey coast, he was­some­whataghast to look out the plane win­dow on his de­scent into Ed­mon­to­nand­seenoth­ing but farm­land. “I re­mem­ber won­der­ing: ‘Where the hell is down­town?’ I got off the plane and I didn’t see any civ­i­liza­tion.”

Jones ar­rived on a five-day trial and he has called Ed­mon­ton home ever since. Part of the rea­son for that was his chance meet­ing on his first night in town with a lo­cal girl, Jamie, who would later be­come­his wife. He­liked the team and youth­ful coach Hugh Camp­bell and­he­liked liv­ing in acommunity where peo­ple aren’t judged by their colour. AnAfrican-Amer­i­can who­played­foot­ball in Texas af­ter be­ing drafted by the Dal­las Cow­boys, he had seen dis­crim­i­na­tion.

“Liv­ing in New Jer­sey wasn’t too bad, but prej­u­dice was all around you. In Texas, it was re­ally bad, but up here you are ac­cepted for who you are and not what you look like.”

Jones, born on June 29, 1952, didn’t start play­ing foot­ball un­til Grade 9, but de­spite be­ing only five-foot-two and 115 pounds, he made his school team as a run­ning back.

His team was un­de­feated in its first two years and Jones went on to win a foot­ball schol­ar­ship to Jer­sey’s Rut­gers State Uni­ver­sity. At Rut­gers he switched to de­fen­sive back and ended up stay­ing on the de­fen­sive side of the ball most of the rest of his play­ing days. “I would rather hit than be hit,” he says rue­fully.

His first year in Dal­las with the Cow­boys un­der coach TomLandry­wasn’t that great. “Tom Landry said I didn’t fit in.” As soon as the Cow­boys re­leased Jones he was snapped up by the Bills, made the NFL all-rookie team and was­run­ner-up­for rookie of the year. He played 12 games in Buf­falo, but his re­la­tion­ship with man­age­ment soured when it was time to re­new his con­tract. They cut him and the Eski­mos snatched him up.

He played the Eski­mos’ last four reg­u­lar-sea­son games and two play- off games be­fore they dropped the West­ern Fi­nal to the Saskatchewan Roughrid­ers. TheEski­mos madeit all the way­totheGreyCupthenex­tyear, 1977, los­ing to Montreal, but Jones, a CFLall-star four straight years, helped them win five con­sec­u­tive cham­pi­onships af­ter that.

“He­wasa­hellofahit­ter,” re­calls Eric Up­ton, an Eski­mos of­fen­sive line­man in the glory days. “He was a good leader and one of the hard­est-hit­ting de­fen­sive backs that I have ever seen play.” Jones smacked Ottawa Rough Rider Tony Gabriel so hard in 1981 that he broke the re­ceiver’s ribs.

The Eski­mos traded Jones to the B.C. Lions in 1984, but he spent most of his last sea­son in foot­ball on the in­jury list. Over his ca­reer he had five knee op­er­a­tions and four shoul­der surg­eries and he is wait­ing for a knee re­place­ment. But he has no re­grets.

Up­ton ex­plains that the bond that was forged be­tween the play­ers on the five-in-a-row squad will never be bro­ken. “In those years you spent more time with the guys than with your wives,” says Up­ton.

“We still count on each other. It re­ally wasaspe­cial time. Peo­ple prob­a­bly know some of us bet­ter than the play­ers play­ing now.”

Up­ton, an ex­ec­u­tive with an equip­ment sup­ply com­pany, says it is nose­cret why he and Jones and many of their team­mates are still here con­tribut­ing to the city. “It isn’t the most hos­pitable cli­mate, but the city opened its arms to us and gave us a lot of op­por­tu­nity.”

Jones, now 56, says the first years af­ter foot­ball were tough. But he got a break when­helanded jobs with the Boys andGirls Club of Al­berta and­later, the Boys and Girls Club of Ed­mon­ton. He joined Habi­tat For Hu­man­ity, build­ing houses for needy peo­ple, and­he­has been putting roofs over peo­ple’s heads in one way or an­other ever since.

To­day, when he’s not on the side­lines of a foot­ball field coach­ing, you will find the fa­ther of two at City Hall, where he’s first con­tact for the Cor­ner­stones grant pro­gram, work­ing with com­mu­nity agen­cies to pro­vide more af­ford­able hous­ing in the city.

“If you look at my whole ca­reer, it’s al­ways been in po­si­tions where I could help peo­ple out, and that has been very re­ward­ing,” Jones says. He also serves as vice-pres­i­dent of the Eski­mos Alumni, help­ing out for­mer team­mates and en­cour­ag­ing the young stars of to­day to give back to the city. “A lot of guys who came by here got that mes­sage­and­stayed, and they do good work,” he says. “This is our com­mu­nity and we want to con­trib­ute to make this the best com­mu­nity around.”


For­mer Eskie Ed Jones gives a tip.

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